New Street-Art Mural on Cherokee: Can it Last?

Categories: Arts, Community
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Photo by Nicholas Phillips
New street art girds the exterior of the El Lenador building on Cherokee Street at Michigan Avenue

For years, the drab exterior of 3124 Cherokee St. has hidden a metamorphosis inside: What was once a German banquet hall and then a Mexican eatery is now known as El Leñador, a punk-hipster cave where you can check out bands and guzzle $1 Stag cans on Wednesday nights.

But now the cool kids' secret is out -- by which we mean, it's been announced on the outer walls, wrapping around the building and electrifying your face -- all thanks to a gang of street artists who got permission from the property manager and completed a mural over the weekend.

The question is: Can it stay?

"Every single person who's stopped by has said, 'Oh my God, this is awesome,'" says Jenn Carter, co-founder of Aisle 1 Gallery.  She organized the project after finding out that a group of respected street artists from around the country were converging on St. Louis and joining forces with local boys known as the LD crew.

She managed to quickly gain permission from the building's manager, Ruben Alejandre, and work was done by Sunday night. But as of Monday afternoon, she still hadn't heard reactions from Alejandre, or from 20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid. And she's wondering if the powers-that-be and ne'er-do-wells in the vicinity will allow it to stand unmolested.

"We've been down this road before," she says.

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Photo by Nicholas Phillips

She's referring to the mini-controversy that occurred five years ago at Waberi Grocery Store building a few blocks to the east. In 2007, local street artist Peat Wollaeger corralled a group of Australian street artists to help him with a mural on the west wall of 2724 Cherokee.  But after a few locals tagged over it and the city issued a citation, the whole project was painted over with a rust-red hue that remains today.

Jenn Carter says that sometimes, a big new piece of street art can embolden gang members to wantonly scrawl their own messages on private property.

"It's a catalyst, I'm not going to deny that," she says. "But there's a certain level of respect you have for a high level of art. It's not people tagging something out of hate or for dominance."

Carter says she fears that "When people see art like that - and by 'people' I mean young boys -- they think they should do it too. But they don't know how, and they don't know the code of ethics." One part of that code, she says, is not painting over something that's "sick" (i.e., skillfully done). She hopes people respect that code with the El Leñador project.

She says she's already explained the arrangement to Brightside St. Louis so that they wouldn't treat the art as a nuisance to be rubbed out. She also vows vigilance against gang graffiti.

"I have no tolerance for the crappy tags," she says, "and I speak very loudly and quickly to take care of it."

But she also calls for dialogue.

"We're going to start opening up this conversation of what is graffiti and what is art, and how to get the neighborhood to respect a high-level of art."

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Photo by Nicholas Phillips

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Photo by Nicholas Phillips

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SABOT LD
SABOT LD like.author.displayName 1 Like

A large portion of the negative comments come from people who can't name 5 graffiti writers or understand the underlying principles of the graffiti movement. It's an underground ART, the illegal context of the majority of my work means that my circle of colleagues is free from the uninformed who deem their opinion relevant, over that of Cherokee residents who I interacted with, Jenn who organized (Everyone can do an awesome mural that pleases everyone, right? Well you didn't even attempt and Jenn worked her butt off), and last but not least those outside the movement who desire to learn more about what we do before writing us off as unorganized taggers. And complaining about out of towners, if you did your research; about 12 of us live in St. Louis. You know what art is all about, but you know nothing about the artists who took part or that I am an art school graduate with several solo shows under my belt. In five years those guys hanging out asking me questions will be gallery owners and curators, I will be using their spaces selling out entire shows, and you will be walking in jocking our nuts while my crewmates laugh at you when we remember who you are. Let's be friends, come in and shake my hand so you don't have a stupid look on your face while you swallow your own words. If I have something to say, I'll come to you directly. I don't remember anyone walking up to me painting and saying anything I've seen here. I'd love to answer any questions.

AGNUS
AGNUS

Go to Kansas City, or any other city, and you see this type of thing every few blocks and nobody bitches about it, im amazed to read some of the closed minded shit people are saying. considering all the art activity on cherokee.

STFU
STFU

everyone is stupid. this wall is dope end of story, and way better than what a blank wall would be there. so everyone shut up. id like to see any of you do anything half as good as the hardwork put into this.

Jamie D. Jessop
Jamie D. Jessop

...I think it's great.  There are MANY MANY more issues that could be dealt with by authorities that are WAY more immediate and dangerous in nature here in South City, Craig Schmid need not worry about this.  If you don't like it, don't look at it.  ...nothing wrong with a little color happening around here.  Most of the naysayers here probably couldn't scratch out a stick man, but hey, if you are so worried about the South Side and it's condition, go out and find a problem to correct or some way to help, I promise, there are MANY more opportunities than the "offensiveness" of this mural.

KitINstLOUIS
KitINstLOUIS

I'm thinking the same thing. Calling something "high art."  that incorporates none of the elements of design is more than a little condescending. If you don't consider color theory, balance,unity or composition, it's very likely not fine art at ALL. If there's an exception to that statement, this mural isn't it. 

docbrown
docbrown

Obviously the individuals who are complaining about this piece have not been into El Lenador. Not in any way discrediting either parties. Strictly saying El Lenador has a very pseudo-urban feel. El Lenador has always been a nice place to chill and where people can feel free to be part of an cluster of strangely accepting sub-cultures. El Lenador should embrace this piece as yet another sub-culture to have a sense of representation and expressing their freedom of speech. Kudos to the guys and girl who made this amazing piece and utilized their rights as American citizen to express themselves via artistic communication. LD, keep on, El Lenador, stay classy!  

nuuj
nuuj

It looks like LA right after the riots.  If this crap is allowed to stand, all of Cherokee will soon look like LA, after the riots.

AVD
AVD

I personally like it, and agree with the comments that Chloe and others have made. But I also hope that that everyone involved is able to work together to make sure that Rueben is happy too. What's funny to me is, regardless of matters of taste, the juxtaposition of the comments "this looks like a train car" and "it has nothing to do with what El Lenador is about." I would think that, given the styles of music I've often heard at EL, a ridin' the rails vibe would fit right in. Just sayin'. 

ILikeTrains
ILikeTrains

I'm one of the artists who took part in this mural. And while I will admit it lacks the cohesion found in other murals I have to say for me this speaks much more about Cherokee st than any of the ideas I've seen mentioned. To me Cherokee represents diversity not one idea, one style, one creed, one color etc. it's a hodge podge/melting pot. While working we had so many people from the neighborhood approach to say how happy/proud they were to live in area that would host an event like this. How much they loved the work. The amount of people who posed for pictures in front of the wall alone was amazing. But what says the most is that I was approached by another local business who wanted something done by us. (he has an exact idea so hopefully that will appease many of the people who have ha negative things to say) But what it all comes down to for me, is that the owner (and neighborhood) be happy. And if by any means Ruben isn't happy I will be the first to donate my time and paint to conver this back to a blank wall. But I think given enough time any business will see that allowing any type of art to be applied to their building will draw attention and more customers in.

lauren adams
lauren adams

It seems like most of the dissenting commenters on the RFT post have a problem with the 'style' of the artwork. I challenge anyone to create a mural that speaks to the entirety of the Cherokee St/South City community. Some of the most famous murals are ones that spoke to a very particular group of people in a very particular time and place. Even Siqueiros, one the great three Mexican muralists, envisioned a Los Angeles with a mural on every corner that was unbound from the hierarchy of high art and the oppressive 'scenic' frescos of Italy's past.Anyways, I think it's great Jenn is taking the initiative, and businesses like El Lenador recognize the importance of providing public space without 'asking' for permission from some Alderperson or the greater community at large. WE make community, community is in the making, and this kind of action and discussion is good for us if it gets us thinking about who we ARE.

Free Speecha Preacha
Free Speecha Preacha

Typical RFT MUCKRAKING so they can get a bunch of uninformed backwards fools to bitch and moan, stir up controversy, and ultimately, click on their ads. Make no mistake, the RFT only writes articles like this so that they can get people to comment and share socially, increasing engagement for greater ad revenue. They could care less about how it affects those involved in these projects or the communities they are writing about. PRIVATE PROPERTY is private property.  I don't know how the aldermen in this town gained so much power, but they should have no right to say or do anything about this piece.  It doesn't matter whether you think it looks good, awful, or otherwise.  Artistic expression is protected by the first amendment of the constitution. End of story. Kudos Jen and LD krew. As a former yinzer, good to see Durag up in my hood again. 

jeep
jeep

again, super abrasive. It looks a lot better than it did blank. I happened to be there the day that this was done, and I understand that it did actually begin as a scene. However, since there were over 20 people collaborating on one canvas, it started changing and was quickly painted over. if people wanted a scene and they didn't get that, i understand that might be a bit of a disappointment. I for one think the colors are gorgeous and I respect the work that was put in by the *very talented* artists who collaborated on a sickly hot day, free of cost. 

Michaeljmantia3
Michaeljmantia3

I love it. Fun and interesting. Look at the crappy color before the art was added... what's the problem you lames

randomjoe
randomjoe

As a resident of south city, I would love to see more art murals like this not just on Cherokee St. but in all parts of the city and downtown!  It makes STL a much more colorful and diverse place to live.  I am thrilled that this is here!  The pieces are amazing to look at and it's beautifully done with each artists individual style shining through each piece.  The people who worked on this and helped make it happen did a great job - I hope to see more from them!

Jessie Jenaye
Jessie Jenaye

I love the colors. I love the fact that businesses are allowing street art to be painted on their walls. Many forms of art are controversial when they first come about. So to the artists, don't get your head down because people don't like the mural. This is awesome and you all are very talented.

Reagent
Reagent

It makes me happy reading this.  Especially the parts where someone says "why didn't they get someone from Cherokee like so and so (who really lives in the county) to do it?"  Shitty people love to complain about things that someone else does because it's easier than getting of their parents' couch and doing it for themselves.  You want something that reflects the neighborhood, you got it.  You want it to reflect something better, make the neighborhood better.

Art
Art

I think it's great to bring some life, color, and culture to the street. Wish there was more of this.

RVSTL
RVSTL

It's so refreshing to see this kind of street art on an otherwise blank wall.  I think we should encourage much more of this stuff all over the city, especially in neighborhoods that are known to be epicenters of artistic expression, such as Cherokee Street.  I applaud everyone who contributed to making that bland building something to look at.  I think the mural/graffiti ordinances in this city need a revamp.

STLs Finest Art Critic
STLs Finest Art Critic

A lot of people are remarking on the art aspect of this wall. And if it constitutes art, what they would prefer the mural to have been of, etc. I would like to remind these people that the wall was just blank white when the artists started work. And even the most extreme minimal art fan I would hope would consider this wall to be of greater value to art, the community, and the art community.

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